Herring, who will sell lemonade in September to benefit Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer, is among nearly 80 students in the UM Foundations for Academic Success Track, or FASTrack, program who have experienced the power of words firsthand by turning a $1,200 donation from a fellow student into a lasting impact on the community.As part of their spring semester writing course, FASTrack students researched, developed and wrote proposals outlining how they would use $100 to benefit a community of their choosing. Taylor McGraw, former Associated Student Body president, selected one winner from each of the 12 class sections and donated $100 from his student government stipend to fund each project.
“We wanted the students to use their writing for service,” said Karen Forgette, UM instructor of composition and rhetoric for FASTrack. “One of our primary aims is to help students feel a sense of community at the university and to engage the whole community. We also want them to understand their own power within the community.”
The project began last winter when students in the first-year learning cohort completed a “bridge” project illustrating their definition of community through a photo essay. When classes resumed, they delved deeper into their topics, gathering information through interviews and research, analyzing data and, eventually, writing project proposals.
“One of the things that was most satisfying to FASTrack instructors was that the service the students were doing was benefiting their writing, and the improvement of their writing was serving the community,” Forgette said. “It gave our students an authentic audience for their writing. Composition research has found that when students write for someone outside of their instructors, their writing improves, and we definitely saw that with these proposals.”
Winning proposals ranged from a $100 donation to the UM Food Bank to projects such as Herring’s lemonade stand. Anna Louise Meyers of Houston, Texas, chose to send vitamins to Haitian children through her project “Rebuilding Haiti One Vitamin at a Time.”
“The proposals I saw were just fantastic,” said McGraw, who hoped the assignment would help freshmen realize the value of service early in their academic careers. “They were well-written and well-researched. I hope this project instills a value that becomes part of the students’ daily thinking – that they look at the world and ask themselves how they can make it a better place.”
As part of Herring’s project, the forensic chemistry major from Smyrna, Ga., researched childhood cancer statistics, interviewed a UM student who was diagnosed with cancer at age 4 and created a budget outlining how she would spend the $100 to purchase supplies for the lemonade stand.
Herring plans to set up the stand during the Ole Miss-University of Texas at El Paso football game in September, which coincides with Fall Family Weekend. She calculates that she can raise as much as $725 for Alex’s Lemonade Stand, selling lemonade at $1 per cup.
“Before this project, my editing and persuasive writing were very unstable,” Herring said. “I hated to edit papers, but this proposal made me really read my writing because I knew someone else would be judging it. I also wasn’t a very persuasive writer before this paper, but it helped me find a topic I was passionate about and really get people to buy into it.”
The idea for the FASTrack project came out of a 2011 College of Liberal Arts initiative to support faculty members interested in service-learning. FASTrack writing instructors received a grant to implement such projects and developed the concept after attending a workshop at the Gulf-South Summit in Blacksburg, Va. When McGraw, who completed a similar service learning project his freshman year, heard about the idea, he offered to provide funding.
“When properly designed, service learning projects benefit the community and teach our students valuable lessons,” said Stephen Monroe, assistant dean of liberal arts and FASTrack director. “This has been just such a project.”
FASTrack is an application-only learning community for UM freshmen, providing students with the tools and support they need to succeed in the transition from high school to college. Students take enhanced versions of courses and receive individual attending from instructors, mentors and academic advisers. For more information on the program, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/fastrack.
Other winning proposals include:
– Madison Langley of Houston, Texas: “Love Packs $100 Proposal”
– A.K. Suggs of Kingwood, Texas: “Impoverished, Not Impossible” (benefitting Leap Frog)
– Kristen Simmons of Jackson: “Diversity Rocks”
– Drazen Minor of Indianola: “Mississippi Magic”
– Morgan Crumbaugh of Birmingham, Ala.: “Cooks for Christ: Creating Change for the Hungry” (benefitting Manna)
– Kaeshia Smith of Memphis, Tenn.: “Positive Youth Development: Making a Difference” (benefitting the Boys and Girls Club)
– Beau Harriman of Colleyville, Texas: “Howling for Help” (benefitting Drifters’ Place)
– Cara Tackett of Baldwyn: Hope for Hopeline (benefitting the UM Counseling Center)
– Tasha Parvin of Rienzi: “Sharing is Caring” (benefitting the Oxford Oxford Pantry)
– Ashley Saulsberry of Nesbit: “More Love for Love Packs”
– Lilly Tayne of Laguna Niguel, Calif.: “$100 Proposal: Rainn Organization”
– Kelly Kundinger of Arlington, Va.: “Hotty Toddy, Food Almighty” (benefiting the UM Food Bank)